It’s important that such institutions are not allowed to shrivel, but are nurtured to become part of a large matrix of cultural facilities, and he believes the Javett-UP could be a catalyst towards achieving that.
There’s already a new wave of interest in art among youngsters, thanks to privately run art fairs, Till says. "A growing group of young collectors is becoming conscious of the fact that art is to be appreciated and supported and potentially has a financial value," he says.
Staging other attractive events can pique their interest further. "When I was the director of the Johannesburg Art Gallery, we took visitorship up four-or fivefold largely [because] we put on a great number of events and exhibitions.
"It’s quite possible for the Javett to be a catalyst in regenerating a dynamic programme of major exhibits and events. I’d like to see it becoming a lightning rod for generating interest in the art of Africa, synonymous with excellence in projecting the vision of the art of Africa and the vision of the artists that inhabit the continent."
The ambition really is to create a world-leading centre for art in Africa, he says.
"Why can’t we become an institute of that kind of standard? Of course we can, it’s quite possible. As an institute with a foot in academia, but its face to the public, we’d like to establish it as a campus on the continent for the art of Africa."
The Javett family is investing most of the money needed to erect the building, which is already taking shape on the campus. After the building is complete, the family will lend its private art collection to fill one of the seven different galleries. Till has a mandate to buy more art and is confident he can persuade other private collectors to lend or donate their works to fill the other six rooms. Purchases will be chosen to fulfil the gallery’s mission to "consider, study, research, collect and present" the art of Africa.
He hopes to forge relationships with global counterparts such as the British Museum, the Metropolitan and smaller institutes for the exchange of art and to establish exchange fellowships and residencies.
A new programme being developed at the University of Pretoria will offer a master’s degree in the conservation of tangible heritage. The Javett-UP will be involved and will offer international residency programmes for artists to spend time at the university to draw international attention to the art of Africa.
First, Till is trying to raise more money from the corporate world to complete the building. He quickly swings into a polished sales pitch.
"We are looking for financial partners to invest in the idea of what the Javett will be and wants to be and how their company can be associated with that vision and what sort of exposure they will receive," he says.
The building will span Lynnwood Road with a bridge that Till promises will be an extraordinary architectural element — a literal and figurative bridge between town and gown.
The gallery could become hugely popular with the students if it promotes art as a way for them to express their opinions and feelings about the issues affecting them.
"There are issues being played out and debated that affect students and art-making is very much part of that
process," Till says.
"We’d like to support discussions on campus around sustainable economy, culture and history and the Javett-UP can play a catalytic role in art-
making, discussion groups and creative activities.
"We’d like to see the students, even if they are not art students, feel some sense of engagement and excitement and pride in the fact that on their campus, they have an institute that one hopes will become an internationally acknowledged institution."
Another aim is to inculcate a love of art in schoolchildren by creating an innovative programme to bring them in to see and make things in the gallery.